Visitors in Hawaii rental units hard to track during virus

HONOLULU — Transient vacation rental units are proving difficult for Hawaii officials to regulate during the coronavirus pandemic as they serve as shelter for many of the state’s visitors.

Many of the 2,970 visitors who arrived in Hawaii during the 23 days prior to Sunday are believed to have stayed in transient vacation rentals, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

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Transient rentals are defined as “a room, apartment, house, condominium, beach house, hotel room, suite, or similar living accommodation” rented for less than 180 consecutive days, according to the state Department of Taxation.

Democratic Gov. David Ige issued 14-day mandatory self-quarantine orders for passengers arriving on trans-Pacific and interisland flights to slow the spread of COVID-19.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau plan to add extra verification steps to confirm information from arriving passengers, authority President and CEO Chris Tatum said.

Tourism authority Chief Administrative Officer Keith Regan told Hawaii senators at a COVID-19 hearing Friday that screeners plan to test passenger cellphones at the airport to ensure contact numbers are operable.

Screeners also will search property tax records to verify passengers provide valid addresses, Regan said.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority reported there were more than 33,000 advertised transient rentals at the end of last year, or about a third of the state’s lodging supply.

Hawaii state law requires passengers arriving in Hawaii to complete an agricultural declaration form. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the form also asks visitors to state where plan to stay.

But information collected on the form does not distinguish stays with friends and family from stays in transient vacation rentals or bed-and-breakfast homes.

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System improvements are expected to catch visitors without plans to follow state quarantine regulations, but keeping up with those in vacation rentals remains difficult, Tatum said.

“Most people are doing the right thing, but I’m sure there are some people that just don’t want to follow the rules,” Tatum said. “If we find them, we’ll report them and address that.”

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